Starring: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry
Director: Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney
Of all the adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s famous Gothic romance of 1910, this silent era film of the 1920’s sticks the closest to the original plot.
It’s the story of Christine (Philbin), a young singer in the Paris Opera, who is catapulted to the central role in Faust when the Phantom (Chaney) that haunts the theatre falls in love with her and manipulates events to get her the starring role. In her innocence, Christine thinks that the Phantom, with his angelic voice, is a friend, but she soon realises her mistake when he takes her into the tunnels beneath the opera and she sees it’s true monstrous face. Luckily, her ex-lover Raoul (Kerry) has been concerned about her, and comes to her rescue.
The film really is stolen, as it should be, by the figure of the Phantom Of The Opera himself, with Lon Chaney’s larger than life performance. He’s a shadow that lurks for the start of the film, but when Christine has trustingly followed him into the dark tunnels, his mask with a doll like face painted on it is really unnerving. It’s soon followed by the reveal of his monstrous, skull like visage, which sends the heroine into an immediate faint. Boy, has she ever made a big mistake.
It’s a film of small figures on large sets, which are really cleverly painted and arranged to give a play of light and shadow on stone and velvet. The opera house is a marvelous setting for a film, and it’s many underground tunnels and lakes, as well as it’s stage sets are beautifully realised. By modern standards, the acting is quite over the top and the pacing is slow, but it’s a truly beautiful film with a huge cast of players and some remarkable set pieces, including an early use of colour during a masked ball sequence. It’s definitely over the top and melodramatic, but it’s worth it for Lon Chaney’s performance and the amazing sets.
See It If: the slow pacing may put off some, but it’s a charming silent film with plenty of drama and a delightful central performance from Chaney.